HL Deb 14 October 1993 vol 549 cc252-5

3.4 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the total number of long-term unemployed at the latest available date; and what has been its average monthly cost to the Exchequer for the last 12 months.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, in July 1993, the number of claimants unemployed for over one year in the United Kingdom was 1,081,165. In Great Britain the average annual cost of a long-term unemployed person, in terms, of income support, is just under £3,000. This figure does not include other income-related benefits.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, does the Minister accept that those figures show an appalling and tragic waste of human and financial resources? As the Government are in their 15th year in office, will they now stop blaming that situation on the world recession? When will the Government begin to realise the devastation that is caused to families by long-term unemployment? As the so-called "recovery" in the economy is now petering out, what do the Government propose to do to stimulate the manufacturing and building industries and other sections of the economy to bring about sustained growth in employment in order that long-term unemployment can be abolished?

Lord Henley

My Lords, of course we recognise the seriousness of the position for the long-term unemployed and every one is an individual tragedy. However, I had thought that the noble Lord might take the opportunity at least to welcome today's main figures for unemployment, which show yet another decrease of some 14,000, which easily cancels out the two very small increases that we have had during the past two months.

Obviously, we recognise the seriousness of the position for the long-term unemployed and I should stress that most unemployed come off the register pretty quickly. Some two-thirds come off within six months. That is why most of the Department of Employment's programmes are targeted on those who are unemployed for over six months or over a year. As regards the long term, obviously the Government cannot simply wave a magic wand and create jobs willy-nilly like that. What we need to do is to ensure that we have low inflation, low interest rates and a deregulated labour market that will create the right conditions for growth. In the end, it will be growth that will create jobs.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend give the House the comparable figures for Germany, France and Italy?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can say that they are going up in all those countries. That is what is quite so remarkable about our own figures in the United Kingdom because, against that trend, as I have just announced, unemployment figures have come down and unemployment has now sunk below the European average.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his Government have been nasty and cruel to the coalminers? Since that appalling Statement last October by the Department of Trade and Industry, 22,500 relatively young coalminers have been declared redundant, cast on the industrial scrapheap in areas of high and long-term unemployment. May I ask the Minister specifically what future he, as a Minister, sees for those men?

Lord Henley

My Lords, every job loss is an individual tragedy for that individual, but we have provided help and we have offered help to coalminers through the training and enterprise councils, and we shall continue to do so. As I said earlier, most of the unemployed come off the register pretty quickly. Some two-thirds of the unemployed come off within six months. I hope that the same can be true of most of the coalminers who, sadly, lose their jobs.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, like millions of people, including the families and relatives of the unemployed throughout the country, what we are finding most distressing is the number of people under 40 who are saying that they are living through the most appalling times in their lives? Although we welcome the news this morning that unemployment is being reduced, that was followed by the news that a number of large organisations are packing in altogether, thus creating another couple of thousand unemployed. If those organisations are connected in any way to government departments, will the Minister see whether they can be helped so that we can prevent some of the increases in unemployment which were announced this morning?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord welcomes the fall in the unemployment figures. As regards the announcement of other job losses, as I said, every announcement of a job loss is a tragedy. I do not know to which ones he was specifically referring. My understanding is that the announcement of 1,000 job losses at Prestwick was an exaggeration and that the figure is more of the order of 400 to 500. However, somehow the press always like to exaggerate the bad news while ignoring the good news. On this occasion, I think that all noble Lords ought to welcome the good news of a further fall in the unemployment figures, which have been brought down by 84,000 this year.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, how many of the welcome fall of 14,000 in the number of unemployed people are long-term unemployed? Or are they mostly people who are just changing jobs?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot give a breakdown of the figure. As I said, I was announcing the monthly unemployment figures. Figures for the long-term unemployed come out quarterly. The most recent figures that I announced to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, came out in July. The noble Baroness will have to wait until next month to see whether there was a fall in the number of long-term unemployed in the last quarter. The figure for the last quarter which I announced in July showed the smallest increase for some time. However, obviously, long-term unemployment will continue to rise after unemployment begins to fall. We already have a lower proportion of long-term unemployed compared with the total number of unemployed of our European partners.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, we are talking about long-term unemployment in this Question. It is obvious that increasing and sustained demand is the only permanent cure for long-term unemployment, so is it not a trifle disingenuous to discount the worldwide recession for a country such as ours, which is so dependent upon its exports? Would it not be a good thing if we were a little more intellectually honest about this question?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should not want to discount the recession. We are managing on this occasion to buck the trend. We are seeing a fall in unemployment levels and a slow-down in the growth of long-term unemployment against most of our European colleagues, who are still seeing major growth in those fields.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to the figures that the Minister quoted in response to the Question put by my noble friend. In respect of claimant unemployment rates by age for July, I see to my horror that although male unemployment is at 14 per cent. unemployment for the age range 20 to 24 is at 20.5 per cent. In view of current concerns about the social effects of that, should not the Government be paying a great deal of attention to that area?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the matter is extremely serious. I can give her the assurance that we consider it to be extremely serious. That is why, as well as the long-term unemployed, young people and youth training receive priority in the various programmes that my department runs.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear to the Minister that I welcome the fall in unemployment. My Question, as he is aware, relates to long-term unemployment, a matter which I have raised many times in the House. As a result of his comment, I had intended asking the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, asked. As he does not have the information, I wonder whether he will write to me about it, because it is obviously of considerable importance. My final point is that, however much we welcome the reductions, they are small. For two years now we have had chronic unemployment, and the long term seems to suggest that it is not improving.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome. I look forward to further Questions from him as we see further falls—I hope somewhat larger—in the coming months. As regards the long-term unemployed, as I say, those figures come out quarterly. He will have to wait until next month for the figures for the long-term unemployed. I shall not offer to write to the noble Lord, but if he will bear with me I shall give him those figures in a month's time.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, with great respect, I hope that the Minister will educate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, on the facts of the matter. Does he not understand that there are individual policies by HMG, as distinct from the problem caused by world trade; that we import 12 million tonnes of coal a year (equivalent to the loss of 12,000 miners' jobs); and that we import electricity from France (equivalent to the closure of five pits and a further 5,000 jobs)? So 17,000 jobs have been lost in Britain in coal mining alone as a result of HMG's policies.

Lord Henley

My Lords, of course the individual policies of Her Majesty's Government make a difference. That is why, as I said, this Government are bucking the trend: we are seeing a fall in unemployment while most of our European colleagues are seeing an increase in unemployment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is it not a mistake to suggest that the fact that British coal costs more than foreign coal is the responsibility of the British Government rather than that of the mining industry?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the Minister referred to the presentation next month of the quarterly figures. Will he give the House an assurance that the process of an adjustment of the figures referred to by Mr. Alan Clark in his work as "fiddling" in the Department of Employment will not apply on this next occasion?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not recognise the term used by the noble Lord, nor do I accept the implied criticism that we have been doctoring figures in any way. I do not remember the noble Lord or others complaining about the figures when unemployment was increasing.